A national seed systems strategy with special focus on drought tolerant crops such as sorghum and millets is in the making in Kenya. The strategy will leverage existing government initiatives, capitalize on agri-science innovations and use digital technologies for value chain linkage and market intelligence. For the purpose, high-level government officers and USAID’s project staff participated in a workshop to constitute a working group for strategy development and countrywide implementation through annual seed workshops with stakeholders.
Drought Tolerant Crops (DTCs) play a significant role in the food system, particularly in countries like Kenya where 80% of land is arid or semi-arid. For smallholder farmers, investing in quality seeds of improved varieties and other agricultural inputs is a critical step towards increasing crop production, and as a result, improving livelihoods.
However, most smallholder farmers of dryland cereals and grain legumes in Kenya have limited access to high-quality, improved seed at convenient outlets. Many released varieties with superior traits have still not been widely disseminated. The seed systems of the dryland legumes and cereals are highly dominated by the informal sector (farmers producing and exchanging their own seeds) along with an emerging intermediate sector consisting of community-based seed producers, while the formal sector remains relatively weak.
Cognizant of the challenges, strategies were developed for sustainable seed systems of DTCs, mainly sorghum, pearl millet, finger millet, green gram, groundnut and pigeonpea through the Kenya Accelerated Value Chain Development Program (AVCD). These seed strategies as well as seed road maps were developed for three project target counties – Makueni, Kitui and Taita Taveta. Following the successful development of county-level seed strategies, the recent workshop focused on creating a national-level platform.
Highlighting the importance of DTCs and their seed systems at the launch of the two-day workshop, the Government of Kenya’s commitment towards strengthening climate-resilient crops was reiterated by Prof Hamadi Boga, Principal Secretary, State Department for Agricultural Research, Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries.
Dr Romano Kiome, Chief of Party of AVCD, emphasized on the need for a unified platform in the country for DTCs and elicited the government’s support towards increased production and utilization of DTC seeds. “There may be a need for the government to give incentives to seed companies to produce open pollinated DTC seeds,” he said.
“We need to work together to have quality seed of relevant varieties along with associated good agronomic practices reached to as many farmers as possible in the country,” said Dr Rebbie Harawa, Research Program Director, East and Southern Africa, ICRISAT.
The need to develop a demand-pull strategy for the grain and end products was highlighted as participants agreed that grain markets would stimulate the demand for seed. “Grain utilization is an important factor for strengthening the DTC value chain. If these crops are targeted for prime markets, farmers will invest in high quality seed as it will make economic sense for them,” said Prof Paul Kimurto, Egerton University.
To address these challenges, a set of recommendations were made. Among them, an important decision was that the constituted team would actively push the government’s initiative on flour blending which seeks to roll out a policy requiring millers in the country to blend wheat and maize with sorghum and millets to improve the nutritional value of the products. This will ease pressure from the over-reliance on major staples like maize, wheat and rice and create markets for the more under-utilized DTCs.
Key recommendations for Drought Tolerant Crops seed systems strategy include:
- More government focus on research and promotion including access to early generation seed
- Align seed systems at the county level with a national level seed system strategy
- Link seedbanks to seed companies and Agrovets
- Leverage the government initiative on flour blending to enhance demand for DTCs grain and seed
- Use the national level seed release database to guide the seed systems strategy
- Use of participatory variety selection in identifying suitable varieties
- Develop a database of new varieties introduced to farmers along with market share
- Maintain a database of stakeholders involved in the DTC seed system as a ready reckoner for building strong seed production and delivery partnerships
- Emphasis on seed technology to fully utilize the genetic potential of new varieties and nurture sustainable seed systems
- Clear articulation of the national seed demand and supply – both present and future
- Appoint a national-level Seed Systems Coordinator to coordinate variety-wise seed demand and supply of various seed classes
- Implement the digital seed corridor and effectively use digital applications for real-time seed production, availability, and delivery tracking by organizing capacity building training for all the stakeholders
- Increase seed replacement rate and varietal turnover through national-level DTC seed systems platform, annual seed production and delivery planning.
- National-level DTC seed systems platform, annual seed production and delivery planning, increase seed replacement rate and varietal turnover.
As a way forward, the team agreed to form a DTC technical working group that will work to put together a country seed systems strategy to be implemented by organizing countrywide annual seed workshops with various stakeholders.
On 2-3 December, the project held a virtual workshop hosted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries in close collaboration with ICRISAT, Egerton University and Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO). The workshop titled ‘National Workshop on Sustainable and Innovative Seed Systems Strategies for Drought Tolerant Crops (DTCs)’ was attended by 78 stakeholders from the Ministry of Agriculture, Egerton University, KALRO, USAID, FAO, Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS), seed companies, County Governments, and other stakeholders involved along DTCs seed production and delivery.
Read more about ICRISAT’s drought tolerant crops on EXPLOREit